Game 23 of 82 (28.0%), Wednesday, December 15, 730pm
Magic @ Celtics
The Salvation Army started ringing its bells in 1865. A former Methodist minister named William Booth founded the East London Christian Mission. They modeled themselves after an army’s structure. They were a volunteer army of people looking to spread God’s word. The husband and wife pair preached. William preached to the poor. Catherine looked for support among the wealthy. A female preacher was rare at the time. The mission was easily spread through alliteration: 1) Soup 2) Soap and 3) Salvation. I like those three “S”s.
Mike and I met on the first day of college. Sixteen years ago now. We’ve leaned on each other as real friends do over time. Life is messy and hilarious and absurd and complicated. Mike and I can talk about anything. Is Amazon a monopoly? Why do people vote against their own best interests? Where did the baby boom generation go wrong and what does it mean for us, the children of the boomers? What is happiness? Why does materialism dominate the lives of so many? Mike and I are both searchers, and neither of us are afraid of the darkness.
We were searching at North Station last night. Back in Boston for the first time in a year. TD Garden is attached to the train station that serves as a commuting hub. We were early for the 7:30 tip. Too early to head straight into the Garden. The ringing of the bells is familiar in December. That red sign and the constant jingle of the bell. We sat down in the bar area and I took out my M&Ms. My wife likes to eat them in a particular order, by color. I spread the bag out and sorted the M&Ms by color. They represented all of the issues that divide our society. All of the potential threats.
Racial injustice and police brutality. Potentially irreversible climate change. Sexual assault on women. Mass incarceration. Money dominating a broken political system. Powerlessness. Protest.
I’m eating the chocolate, one by one, pushing it on Mike, who is generally abstaining. The bell is incessant. An unceasing but irregular ring. I wonder about how a looping sound would effect people. The poor Salvation Army workers could give themselves a rest. In all 126 countries. The tiny speaker could reproduce the tinny warble. But then it would be much easier to tune out, wouldn’t it? It wouldn’t attract the same attention. Fewer people might stop. We see the commuters. So few smiles. Busy people just trying to get home. I joked that, “Some are Celtics fans.” The bell gets stuck in your brain after a while. Your thoughts are divided, polluted by the irregular noise. A sensory experience that probably feels like severe ADHD. Eventually, we move to the other end of the station, near the Dunkin Donuts. Walter McCarty suddenly appears. “Is this the line for donuts?” He hustles by, ordering a large coffee. Some fans try to take pictures, with his back turned toward the counter. Ridiculous. Walter heads back to get into his game attire: gray suit and encouraging smiles for the young Celtics. We head into the arena. The seats are new. We got two season tickets in 2007. The group of 12 built around friends and friends of friends. This off-season we moved up from Row 11 to Row 3 and switched ends of the court. The seats are closer to the floor, though slightly more obstructed by the hoop. My dream of sitting in courtside seats remains. Maybe one day when I’m 70.
The sensory overload experience seems louder than ever before. Somebody turned the volume knob up too high. I should have ear plugs. Mike and I are shouting just to keep a conversation going. I feel like a 70 year-old who can’t handle the IMAX-level throttling.
The game itself? A sloppy first five minutes. Some head-scratching turnovers. As expected, young Magic center Nic Vucevic dominates Tyler Zeller. Vucevic is a legit post threat. With 2:00 left in the opening quarter, he’s poured in 12 points, hauled in 6 offensive rebounds. Mercifully, Vucevic goes to the bench and the Celtics restored order in the final minutes, taking a 29-28 lead.
The drunk dude behind us enjoys hearing his own voice, as it descends on the action. He has a fondness for pointing out when the Magic score too easily. He has irrational anger. He directs some of it at Rondo. He encourages Celtics by shouting their first names at them. When I was 20, I was this kind of fan, even without alcohol to propel my antics. Every possession seemed to matter. Now I shudder when fans scream in the middle of the second quarter. A casual Evan Turner rebound does not require a screaming soundtrack.
The Celtics are shooting 60% and the game is tied at 33, due to early turnover mania.
Now Rondo sits and the Magic push ahead. Evan Fournier is taking advantage of his height, with Phil Pressey guarding him. Orlando 43, Boston 35. The fans are growing restless. A reminder of the negativity that infiltrates so many Boston fans during the lean years of 1998-2003, before I moved. Warriors fans, even in the mediocre seasons of 2004-2006, were an entirely different species.
Kelly to the Rescue
On the heels of his career-high 30 point explosion in Philly, I had my eyes on Kelly, hoping he finds a level of stability in his 6th man role. The first stretch: a turnover, a lay-up and a missed three-pointer. Back to the bench.
As soon as he re-entered (4:54 left in the half), Rondo found Olynyk and the 3-pointer dropped through. Relief. Next trip down. Olynyk pump-faked and got his defender in the air. Looking for the foul, he didn’t get the call, but made the leaner anyway. Another trip down, and Rondo-to-Olynyk for another three. A ten-point deficit is cut to four.
Rondo’s rare triple puts the Celtics back on top before halftime, 56-53. Finishing quarters strong. A Popovich principle. The psychological edge that comes with a halftime-lead and those final few minutes going well. Positive vibes return to the crowd.
Second Half – Balanced Scoring
The third quarter was Sullinger’s turn. These are the ways in which a cerebral, pass-first point guard controls the game. Any casual fan who listens to Rondo criticisms and rumors misses these subtle points. A team full of young scorers needs a director. Think of a team as kids on a teeter-totter. Balanced scoring is a key element of success, and yet it is never easily achieved in basketball. In order to maintain balanced scoring, a team needs the following:
1) an unselfish point guard
2) defense, which leads to transition offense
3) multiple above-average shooters
4) savvy passing from all five teammates
With 3:16 left in the third (33 minutes of game action), Rondo and the team’s numbers illustrate his skills as a distribution expert. Here they are:
Assists: 12 for the Maestro.
Points: Sullinger 16, Green 12, Rondo himself, 11, Zeller 10, Olynyk 10, Bass 8
By mid-way through the 4th, the Celtics defense had firmly dug in and the offense kept flowing. Sharing the wealth, it was Brandon Bass and Phil Pressey taking turns watching their shots fall through the net.
The Celtics finished with 109 points, shooting a blistering 55% on 44 of 80 attempts. No player took more than 14 shots. Of the ten Celtics who played, none played more than 33 minutes. Eight of the ten Celtics scored more 8 or more points. This is how Brad Stevens, or any modern NBA coach worth his pretzels, wants his team to operate. This was a beautiful win. So what if they don’t win a championship in June? So what if this was very young Orlando Magic?
They have something building. Ignore the rumors. Ignore the standings. Appreciate the way this team operates. ‘Tis the season of giving. Rondo will be giving all season. Bells are ringing. Drop in a dollar and appreciate what you have.